The Michigan Wolverines are afforded a tremendous and unusual amount of depth at numerous positions this season. No doubt, that’s the byproduct of returning the third-most production in the Power Five, but still, this level of depth has not been seen in Ann Arbor in a long time.
Think of how quickly the depth fell off a cliff for the 2016 team, especially on the offensive line. Or the limited depth of 2021 along the defensive interior. No offense to Julius, but if Welschof is a rotational piece the depth is shallower than a Michael Bay movie.
Last year’s team set a foundation and with the majority of contributors returning, Team 144 is prepared to build into a national champion contender. Of course, depth concerns remain for a few positions — especially corner and quarterback — but this team has flexibility up and down its bench most teams do not.
The two-deep across-the-board is well established if not set in stone. But what about a few third-stringers? Being third-string at Michigan doesn’t mean relegation to hand out Gatorade, but instead, it means you are a situational specialist.
Third-string Wolverines have loosely defined roles and are more often than not occupied by two or more players. Let’s run through a few of the top projected third-string tandems who could have an impact this season.
TE Max Bredeson/Matthew Hibner
The one-two punch of Colston Loveland and AJ Barner is rightfully going to steal the headlines this season as dynamic pass-catchers and devastating run-blockers. But in Sherrone Moore’s offense, the Wolverines could see up to five tight ends used throughout the season.
Max Bredeson and Matthew Hibner will be two of the featured players, with each bringing a little something different to the table. Bredeson is a ferocious lead-blocker and will typically line up in the backfield as a fullback. Hibner brings more explosiveness as a receiver and will line up on the line of scrimmage or split out among the receivers.
Despite being some combination of third/fourth on the depth chart, expect to see both incorporated into the offense in every game this season.
RB Kalel Mullings/Benjamin Hall
Running back No. 3 is one of the most important positions on the roster. Between Kalel Mullings and Benjamin Hall, these two are expected to lighten the load on the premier duo of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, and help preserve their health.
Furthermore, the size of both backs — Mullings is 239 pounds and Hall is 234 pounds — suggests they could see an increased amount of touches in short-yardage or goal-line situations. It would be in classic Harbaugh fashion if one of these players replicated the 2016 Khalid Hill season with 10 touchdowns or even a 2018 Ben Mason season with seven.
Whatever the responsibilities, a short-yardage dirty work back could help Michigan win it all. Lest we forget, in every game last season both Corum and Edwards registered a carry, Michigan won by 13+.
DT Cam Goode/Enow Etta or Trey Pierce
Michigan’s defensive interior is as deep as it’s been in 15 years. The starters are locked in as Kris Jenkins — who might be the best in the country — and Mason Graham. Rotating with them will be Rayshaun Benny and slim-thick Kenneth Grant, who is down to 338 pounds. But what makes this team so special is even the third-string rotation is a viable option.
Cam Goode and either Enow Etta or Trey Pierce will form a contrasting duo of youth and experience. Goode is in his final days as a collegiate athlete and the freshmen are only beginning theirs with tremendous amounts of buzz surrounding them. This duo will be able to bring basement-level depth to a group whose ceiling is the roof.
Edge TJ Guy/Kechaun Bennett
The two-deep at the edge is still up in the air as Jaylen Harrell, Josaiah Stewart, Braiden McGregor and Derrick Moore duke it out in fall camp. However, behind these four, a few players have begun to stand out as key reserves for the fall.
Kechaun Bennett’s spring game proved he has taken his game to the next level, and TJ Guy has been the talk of several coaches throughout camp. When speaking to the media, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter even took notice of Guy’s rise.
“And then I think TJ Guy is also a guy so far in the first week and a half, roughly, that is trying to push his way into possibly being a fifth man in that rotation.”
Fifth man or third-string may sound like a dubious honor, but over the test of a possible 15-game season, every player is going to be needed.